Expanding Frontiers in the Revolutionary War Era United States 1776 to 1783 (National Institute)
The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course United States Migration Patterns by Beverly Whitaker, CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
The American Revolutionary War
The outbreak of Revolutionary War found a relatively small group of colonists nestled along the western slopes of the Appalachians and nearly cut off from the eastern settlements. They were threatened from the west by British-sponsored Indians, unsure of their political status, and sometimes seemed to be a forgotten people. (Riegel and Athearn, America Moves West, 48.) In the southern back country, the threat was compounded by the large number of Loyalists living there, most of whom were ready and willing to join the Indians in attacking settlements there.
The Revolutionary era was especially hard on the Kentucky settlements which were nearly four hundred mountainous miles west of the ocean. Supported by British supplies from Detroit, the Indians made virtually continuous attacks. Nevertheless, immigration over the Wilderness Road continued, and by 1780 more than twelve thousand pioneers had crossed the Cumberlands (as that part of the Appalachian mountain range was called). By the time the war ended, close to ten thousand more men, women, and children had taken the trail to Kentucky. (Douglas Waitley, Roads of Destiny..., 264-265.)
Agriculture predominated, with small farms everywhere. South of the Potomac River, large plantations developed; they used slave labor to grow tobacco, indigo, and rice. The largest colonial cities—Philadelphia, Boston, Newport, New York, and Charleston—were all located either on the seaboard or on a large navigable river. Smaller settlements were concentrated along rivers so that produce could be easily shipped to market. Only a small fraction of Maine was settled; central and northern New Hampshire and Vermont were just being opened; in New York, adventurous German immigrants were pushing out along the Mohawk; in the South, Georgia was still largely unpopulated. (Riegel and Athearn, America Moves West, 49.)
A particularly detailed description of the frontier during the Revolutionary era is provided in the book, Westward Expansion, A History of the American Frontier, 5th edition by Ray Allen Billington and Martin Ridge, 1982. When the Revolutionary War ended, the Treaty of Paris (1783) made provisions that were favorable to the United States. All the region south of the Great Lakes went to the United States. The northwestern boundary was to run from Lake Superior to the Lake of the Woods and then directly west to the Mississippi River. From this point the boundary was to follow the Mississippi south to 31 degrees north latitude and then along the 31st parallel and the present northern boundary of Florida to the Atlantic coast. (Riegel and Athearn, America Moves West, 60–61.) Because the fate of the Floridas was unknown at that time, a secret agreement provided that if Britain retained West Florida, the southern boundary of the United States would begin at the mouth of the Yazoo River and run east to the Chattahoochee. (Billington and Ridge, Westward Expansion, 199–200.)
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